Human trafficking…tales of courage

NEW DELHI: Fatima, a victim of human trafficking, was married into a family in Forbesganj in Araria district in Bihar when she was only nine years old. Her mother-in-law allegedly ran a brothel in their house, something that was beyond her comprehension. She managed to run away to Nepal, where her parents lived, thrice, but there was no escaping her predicament. Each time she was sent back. "I cried because I wanted to play like other children. My aunt's advice might have been harsh but it was the stark truth. She told me that either I should fight my fate or simply die. That's when I stopped running away and started confronting reality," said Fatima in the first regional meeting of sex trafficking survivors that took place in Delhi on Tuesday. 

Fatima now helps run the Kasturba Gandhi Girls Hostel in Araria funded by the Bihar government as part of their 'Education for all' programme. The hostel provides shelter to about 50 girls — daughters of scheduled caste farmers and human trafficking victims. The girls are vulnerable and run the risk of being forced into flesh trade. They are sent to school till class VIII. 

Human trafficking victims and survivors from India, Nepal, the Philippines, as well as, advocates from Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia attended the meeting, which was organized by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific and Apne Aap Worldwide. 

According to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) figures, there are currently three million human trafficking victims in India — 1.2 million of them are children. National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) figures indicate that the average age of those who fall victim to human trafficking is between nine and 13 years. There has been a staggering rise in the number of persons involved in human trafficking in the country — the figure has increased 17 times in the past decade. 

A human trafficking survivor from the Philippines, Alma Bulawan, said, "I was coerced into the trade by my brother in Olangopo near a military base. Iwas employed as a waitress in a bar and was forced to entertain the guests. Our manager would let us turn down a customer." Alma now runs a dropin centre for women in prostitution in the Philippines. "I started working as an organizer even though the salary was a pittance as there were so many women around me who were suffering. I did not want others to meet the same fate that I did because of the absence of a support system," she said. 

The message that was hammered home was that both the survivors and support organizations against human trafficking were stoutly opposed to any bid to legalize prostitution. "We want the section 5 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act to be made more stringent so that the buyers of sex are given punishment and the section 8 of the Act, which punishes women workers who are actually victims, to be deleted. We need to focus on punishing the buyers and pimps and provide assistance to the victims," said Ruchira Gupta, founder of Apne Aap Worldwide.